FROM THE WEBMASTER: “A group of young women has, in their
email, criticized us “for not exposing the evil practice of
female circumcision, Gudniika Gabdhaha,” or Female Genital
Mutilation (FGM). But it seems these young ladies must have
missed reading a well-documented TALKING POINT by M. M. Afrah
on this controversial subject several years ago. Nevertheless,
we are re-running the same article to thrill these young
ladies, who said they are a group of Somali women activists in
Many African women groan whenever you mention words like
female circumcision or infibulations. So I wondered why these
words are very sensitive or taboo for many people in the Horn
of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti), Egypt, Sudan,
parts of Kenya and West Africa.
To garner an answer to that question I turned to Amina of
Somalia and Lydia Gebre Selassie of Ethiopia whose families
practiced the operation for generations, which they now
describe as “disgusting” and “horrendous.”
“Whenever a mother refused or even questioned the need for the
operation, that mother and her family are stigmatized and in
some cases put to death,” Amina said.
“The circumcision of a girl before puberty is considered as
sacred duty for her parents and the society as a whole,” added
Lydia from Addis Ababa.
I gasped when I heard the way the operation is performed, not
by doctors, but old traditional midwives wielding rusty
knives, needles from thorn trees and dirty rugs, and of
course, without anesthesia.
What the old midwife was to do is cut the clitoris and stitch
the labia majore (outer sex organs) together, leaving a tiny
opening for the flow of urine. Those who were lucky to survive
the knife, the tiny opening is the worst nightmare because it
takes eternity for the girl to complete her toilet—often very
The horrendous story does not end there.
“But why do parents want their daughters to undergo this very
dangerous operation?” I asked an elderly man in the Finch area
who refused to have his two daughters Ayaan and Deeqa to be
circumcised in a backroom in Metro Toronto.
“Islam does not sanction female genital mutilation, It is
Pharaonic and therefore unlawful,” he said with strong
A nationwide survey jointly conducted by the World Health
Organization (WHO) and the defunct Somali Ministry of Health
in the heydays of the ousted military dictator, Major-General
Mohamed Siyad Barre, revealed that nearly half of the victims
died of hemorrhage, while 30 per cent died at childbirth. The
survey also noted that fewer married couples were living up to
their vows, because the bridegroom discovered that his bride
was not “properly” circumcised, according to tradition.
It transpired during litigation that the operation was
transformed by a qualified doctor in a hospital in what was
described as Sunna, which is more humane and less painful than
the Pharaonic way.
General Barre, whose words were the law of the country,
discouraged people from what he described as un-Islamic, and
there was a surge of opinions, and at times heated debates
that eventually led to fist fights in mosques throughout the
country about the ritual. . Opponents argued that the practice
is cruel, un-Islamic and damaging to the women’s sexual and
reproductive health, while the traditionalists claimed the
practice had protected women from what they consider excessive
sexual desire, and also guarantees virginity.
“I went through three painful moments in my life: (a) during
the actual operation (b) during intercourse, and (c) during
childbirth,” said an old women currently living in Toronto’s
Regent Park. She blames men in their desire to have a
“completely sewed package” or money back as if the girl was a
merchandize. She said the majority of Somali males view
uncircumcised girl as “unclean”. She told me that was in
Africa, where some vocal religious fanatics and
traditionalists have strong grip on the society.
“But why anyone wants to continue this horrible practice in
the Diaspora?” she asked.
To get an answer to that question I turned to a very
knowledgeable community worker in Regent Park Community Health
Center, which serves ethnic groups from the Horn of Africa.
“Old habits die hard, especially with elderly people who frown
whenever they hear girls should not be circumcised,” she said.
She warns newcomers that it is against the law to mutilate
genitals, which many of these elderly people believed were
religious injunction, or obligation.
She regularly conducts a workshop at the Community Health
Center, quoting sermons from well versed Imams and
translations from the book “Sisters In Affliction” by a Somali
woman in the 1980s when tempers on the ritual were running
high in Somalia.
By M.M. Afrah©